James Harden was traded to the Brooklyn Nets on January 13. Harden, the former superstar guard of the Houston Rockets, was shipped, along with a 2024 second-round pick, to the Nets in a massive four-team trade that sent shockwaves throughout the NBA. This deal was life-changing for all the teams involved, as the Rockets were finally able to get rid of the superstar that no longer wanted to be there.
While he was still in Houston, Harden talked about the team following a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “We’re just not good enough,” he said. “This situation is crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed.”
After his remarks, Harden abruptly ended the press conference and was traded the next day.
In the deal, Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs and four first-round picks, along with four first-round pick swaps, were sent to the Rockets. Caris LeVert and a second-round pick were dealt to the Indiana Pacers and the Cleveland Cavaliers received Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince. After two months of play, the Rockets are second-to-last in the Western Conference, recently breaking a 20-game losing streak. The Nets are in a tight race with the Philadelphia 76ers for the first seed in the Eastern Conference. Although Harden formed a big three in Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, questions remain as to how this team can win a championship given their defensive struggles.
The Houston Rockets lost both general manager Daryl Morey and head coach Mike D’Antoni last season, after a disappointing five-game Western Conference Semifinal exit against the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers. In October, the Rockets hired Stephen Silas, a former assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks; and within a few weeks, Harden made it known that he wanted to be traded, specifically to the Brooklyn Nets. His former teammate, Russell Westbrook, requested a trade as well and was shipped to the Washington Wizards shortly after, for John Wall and a future first-round pick. The Rockets hoped that the duo of Wall and DeMarcus Cousins would be enough to convince Harden to stay, but it wasn’t. Now, after waiving Cousins on February 23, and trading Victor Oladipo to the Miami Heat, after he turned down a 2-year $45 million contract extension to stay in Houston, the Rockets are working with the duo of Wall and new rising star center Christian Wood, who currently leads the team in scoring. While the Rockets aren’t expected to make the playoffs this season, they have plenty of draft capital to start a rebuild, given the nine first-round picks they received as part of the Harden trade.
Although LeVert left Brooklyn, the trade saved his life as the team discovered in an MRI that he had a small mass on his left kidney. Fortunately, he underwent successful surgery to treat the renal cell carcinoma and LeVert recently made his season debut against the Phoenix Suns. For the Cavaliers, Jarrett Allen has proven to be a valuable young center that complements the young guard duo of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. Allen’s defense is something the Nets will truly miss as he is one of the NBA’s top shot-blockers, averaging 1.7 blocks per game to go along with 13.1 points and 9.9 rebounds. Without the extra rim-protection, the Nets will struggle defending the paint against other top-contenders in the Eastern Conference, like the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Currently, the Nets are first in scoring, averaging 119.1 points per game, but they are 26th in points allowed per game with 114.8. With new, first-time head coach Steve Nash, a hall of famer and two-time MVP, along with former player Amar’e Stoudemire and former Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni, the Nets have the makings of the “:07 seconds or less” offense that was previously run by the Phoenix Suns. However, with the losses of LeVert and Allen, the Nets have lost depth and defense in order to acquire a former MVP in Harden.
On every championship team, sacrifices need to be made. So far this season, Harden looks like he’s willing to sacrifice statistics in order to win. With Kevin Durant averaging 29.0 points per game and Kyrie Irving averaging 28.2, James Harden is averaging a league-leading 11.1 assists per game, as he looks to be the facilitator in this new explosive Nets offense. However, even with the recent pickups of former All-Stars Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, it won’t be enough to fix the Nets defensive woes. If this team can’t improve on that side of the floor, the Brooklyn Nets won’t be the NBA champions this season, because, as they say — defense wins championships.